It’s not about knowledge – it’s about feeling…

LateNite Films is lucky enough to be situated in the heart of Australia’s upcoming acting scene – 16th Street Acting Studio. As part of our support and collaboration with this inspiring collective, we often work with them on their films. In the last week, I have had the pleasure and challenge of editing more than 22 scenes from various feature films which the students have been studying, Directed by Kim Farrent, who also directed the award-winning documentary, Naked on the Inside.

Being primarily a documentary editor (having only ever cut one narrative feature film), it was awesome to re-explore what it’s like to edit working with set scenes and takes, scripts, actors and a directors vision.

At the end of the day, editing is editing – and the craft is the same no matter what genre you approach or technology you use.

Nothing gets in the way of the editing process, it’s the process of your thinking…

Watching DP/30 Industry Legends: Editor Michael Kahn really connected me to what it means to be an Editor, whether it’s documentary or narrative. I highly recommend this precious and timeless interview to anyone in the film industry, especially editors and directors.

Here’s is my summary and response:

I don’t cut from knowledge… it’s not about knowledge – it’s about feeling…

This is a well known truth about the craft of editing. You can’t learn it in school, you can’t teach it to somebody else – it’s an intuitive thought process that is developed and improved through lots of work. Editing (and especially assistant editing) as a general rule, often involves huge demands and intense workloads. It can at times be quite overwhelming, especially if you’re just starting out, which makes me think that they way  experienced editors handle what others would call “stress” is the true magic of a professional.

The beautiful thing about editing film, is you can only edit one scene at a time, one cut at a time… you see all the film up there, but it doesn’t matter, you deal with it one piece at a time…

The skill of being able to see the film as a whole, piece it together, but then somehow separate yourself from that notion and deal with scenes individually is magic. This method of thinking can be transferred to a lot of things outside of editing which improve productivity. But it’s more than that. It’s about giving yourself the mental space to improve quality. You’re completely centralised on the current fraction of a second, the current frame, whilst at the same time, feeling the rhythm of the story in it’s entirety. The ability to isolate, as apposed to overwhelm.

It’s impossible to think about 10 years and 200 hours of archival footage when crafting a documentary – but it’s certainly possible to instinctively feel the rhythm and pace of a story, even when it’s unfolding as you work.

Being an editor is my life… I never get bored…
…with Editing, you have to get the satisfaction from the work…

I think editors are a rare breed. Like most art-forms, you have to really, truly, ridiculously, LOVE what you do to be able to keep doing it. What’s really unique about editing as apposed to acting or directing, is that the pleasure comes from the process. Most people in America, Australia and the UK will not know who Michael Kahn is (no, not Michael Cain). Although, I would dare say that a hell of a lot know Indiana Jones, Jurrasic Park, Schindlers List, Hogans Heroes… hell even The Adventures of Tin Tin! Yes, Michael Kahn has a ridiculously expansive repertoire of films he has edited. But there’s no public prestige or fame for a film editor. Watching Michael’s interview really demonstrated the true humble spirit of a craftsman who loves his job.

When two people work together, and they care about the film, there’s nothing you can’t overcome…

This statement is true. To be honest, hearing it made me a little emotional, thinking back to all the moments of pride, pain and pure excitement I’ve had over the years “making movies”.

When you find a team you respect, and then that team finds a project you all care about, there is honestly nothing you can’t overcome. The perfect example right now is our wonderful friends in the UK at Realm Pictures, who overcame their initial financial issues with an epic crowd funding campaign, and are currently in production to make their dream come true to create The Underwater Realm – a series of short films set entirely underwater. They “have always been about pushing the envelope – and this project is testing that attitude to breaking point”. 

It all comes back to passion. Michael Kahn is now 75 years old – and he’s still cutting.

[when not in the cutting room]… I go crazy!! As long as they still want me, I’ll work…

This interview really touched my heart, but what I love most about it, was his frank and honest introduction. He admitted to falling into the art of editing. It was something that seemed to organically evolve around him – not driven by his ambitions. So important.

Ambition, expectation and “career goals” to me are scary concepts. It’s a common theme that the most respected artists (or businessmen/women) are the ones who simply did what the loved, and when they hated it, they did it even more until they could bare it again, as quality improved.

You can’t escape your film projects, even if things aren’t working, you don’t have choice but to keep working on an edit until it works. Michael Kahn had no problem asking Stevan Spielberg for help when he felt stuck. Working in film, every single project is different, so even when you have years of experience you will always find new challenged to overcome. And when you overcome them, you move onto the next. Michael Kahn doesn’t even watch the films he’s edited, and he doesn’t reflect. He simply approaches every film with fresh enthusiasm. He admits that although he began “not knowing what [he] was doing” , film editing has indeed “…become a passion”.

He really put emphasis on cutting from “feeling”, and never cutting from knowledge, which I think is great advice for upcoming editors to dive in to new challenges, and try cutting their own scenes (or downloading YouTube videos and re-cutting those). I remember I used to love “editing” music – try that too.

Anyway, thank you so much to the crew at DP/30 for sharing. I’ll be storing some of Michael’s passion with me for a while, to help me get through some of the epic projects that we have in Post at the moment.

I leave you with a fantastic YouTube clip (movie lovers may have seen already) edited by then 19 year old Matt Shapiro.

Lastly, a couple of EDITING TIPS from Michael Kahn:

  • Always get the Director to choose the best takes before you begin editing.

Comedy editing rules to abide by:

  • No cold cuts!
  • Never overlap a joke – let the actor finish their punch line!

~ j.

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